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You Have a Couple of Something, Not a Couple Something

Posted by languageandgrammar on January 31, 2008

AP article, January 20, 2008: In a national economy teetering on the brink of recession, there are a couple bright spots for Pennsylvania.

Perhaps it’s not fair, but I expect more from institutions such as the AP. I actually didn’t need to use a quote from the newspaper, however; I hear and see this grammar error every day, everywhere I turn. I’m sure that you do, too.

We hear it from weather forecasters who talk about a couple snow showers approaching, news anchors and talk show hosts who tell guests that they have a couple questions, and sports broadcasters who discuss a couple poorly thrown passes; we read it in magazines about recipes that have only a couple ingredients and stories about world leaders who have a couple years left in office, and we’re told by friends, family, and co-workers that they have a couple ideas, a couple kids, a couple—I could go on, but you get the point. This grammar error seems to be one of the most pervasive in grammar history.

Unless making a reference to two people (the couple walked down the street), the word couple needs the word of after it. Why? Because that’s the expression: a couple of. You have a couple of something, not a couple something.

Note: I’ve seen a couple of very recent resources assert that couple of is the correct expression in formal writing and that you’ll hear couple without the of in casual conversation. Well, that’s half right. You’ll certainly hear couple without the of in casual conversation, but couple of is ALWAYS the correct expression in ANY type of writing or speaking, not just formal. Couple is not slang or colloquial or conversational English; it’s just plain wrong, and we should stop making excuses for using poor grammar. It’s as wrong as saying In a national economy teetering on the brink of recession, there are a few of bright spots for Pennsylvania.

Sherry

Sherry’s Grammar List and Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever

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